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Posinsky, S.H. (1959). The Silent Language: By Edward T. Hall. New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1959. 240 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 28:414-415.
(1959). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 28:414-415
The Silent Language: By Edward T. Hall. New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1959. 240 pp.
Review by: S. H. Posinsky
The Silent Language is the communication among peoples of different cultures or subcultures. As a former officer of the State Department, and an anthropological specialist in the training of Americans for foreign service or business, Hall is eminently qualified to know how disastrous this wordless communication can be.
Beginning with the introductory paragraphs, however, this book moves in several directions at once and on different levels of abstraction. It is partly a theory of culture which derives from biology, a theory of communication, linguistics, and the psychiatry of Harry Stack Sullivan. It is also a jet-age treatise on etiquette, and an oblique discussion of the less than phenomenal success of the foreign-aid program. As might be expected, the fault has no connection with officialdom, or with complex impersonal forces, but with the chauvinistic American citizen who is greatly ethnocentric, behaves badly when abroad, etc.
One wonders if the anthropologists' interest in these matters is dictated by a sense of national or personal mission, or merely by the desire to stave off technological unemployment. At any rate, problems of global complexity are here discussed with a glibness that would be inappropriate in a kindergarten teacher.
Writing for the layman and the scientist alike, Hall feels 'very strongly that we must recognize and understand the cultural process'. This admirable but trite admonition augurs the future appearance of books on 'How To Anthropologize Yourself'. Worse, the author's approach (and he is not alone among American anthropologists) tends, despite occasional disclaimers, to mislead the average reader about the possibility of readily understanding, let alone controlling, the cultural process, while the principle of indeterminacy is a luxury which a young science must forego.
The most interesting parts of the book deal in a superficial manner with the influence of cultural concepts of time and space on individual behavior. This thesis has been propounded before and is worthy of further investigation by anthropologists and psychologists. Unfortunately, the author flits between a dull jargon and a folksy vernacular, either of which is irritating by itself. It has been some years since this reviewer has encountered so much reification
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